September 27, 2011

Do you believe in magic?

Stephen Shore, Causeway Inn,Tampa, Florida, November 18, 1977

* Horacio Castellanos Moya on Bolano Inc. excerpt:

Maybe I was not the only one surprised when, on opening the North American edition of The Savage Detectives, I found a photograph of the author that I didn’t recognize. It is a post-adolescent Bolaño, with his long hair and mustache, the look of a hippie or of the young non-conformist in the time of the infrarealists—the poetry movement he helped found in Mexico in 1974—and not the Bolaño who wrote the books that we know. I was delighted at the photo, and since I’m naïve, I told myself that surely it had been a stroke of luck for the editors to get a photo of the time to which the greater part of the novel alludes. (Now that the infrarealists have started their own website, you can find several of these photos posted there, among which I recognize my pals Pepe Peguero, Pita, “Mac,” and even the Peruvian journalist José Rosas, now settled in Paris, whose connection to the group I wasn’t aware of.) It didn’t occur to me to think then, since the book had just come off the press and was beginning to cause a stir in New York, that this nostalgic evocation of the rebel counterculture of the sixties and seventies was part of a finely-tuned strategy.

It was no casual fact, then, that the majority of articles profiling the author laid the emphasis on the episodes of his tumultuous youth: his decision to drop out of high school and become a poet; his terrestrial odyssey from Mexico to Chile, where he was jailed during the coup d’état; the formation of the failed infrarealist movement with the poet Mario Santiago; his itinerant existence in Europe; his eventual jobs as camp watchman and dishwasher; a presumed drug addiction; and his premature death. “These iconoclastic episodes coupled with Bolaño’s death at fifty,” writes Pollack, “are too tempting to narrate as anything but a tragedy of mythical proportions: here seems to be someone who actually saw his youthful ideals through to their ultimate consequences.” “Meet the Kurt Cobain of Latin American literature,” wrote Daniel Crimmins in Paste magazine.
No North American journalist highlighted the fact, Sarah Pollack warns, that The Savage Detectives and the greater part of Bolaño’s prose work “were written as a sober family man” during the last ten years of his life—and an excellent father, I’d add, whose major preoccupation was his children, and that if he took a lover at the end of his life, he did it in the most conservative Latin American style, without threatening the preservation of his family. Pollack notes that “Bolaño appears to the reader, even before one crosses the novel’s threshold, as a cross between the Beats and Arthur Rimbaud (another reference for his alter ego Arturo Belano), his life already the stuff of legend.” Yet the majority of critics have passed over the fact that Bolaño didn’t die as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, but from a case of poorly cared-for pancreatitis that had destroyed his liver; or that his case was more similar to those of Balzac or Proust, who also died at fifty after a tremendous work effort, than it was to those of North American pop idols.

I can tell you, though, that Bolaño would have found it amusing to know they would call him the James Dean, the Jim Morrison, or the Jack Kerouac of Latin American literature. Wasn’t the first novella that he wrote a quatre mains with García Porta called Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic? Maybe he wouldn’t have found so amusing the hidden reasons that they called him that, but that’s flour for another sack. What is certain is that Bolaño was always a non-conformist; he was never a subversive or a revolutionary wrapped up in political movements, nor was he even a writer maudit. He was a non-conformist, just as the Royal Spanish Academy defines it: “One who polemicizes, opposes, or protests[...] anything established.”

* Family tree: The Gun Club.

* "While facts never become obsolete or stale, commentaries always do." -- Isaac Bashevis Singer


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once stayed at the Causeway Inn, but the ping pong table was out of service.

Sherwood Anderson

4:15 PM  

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